Last week Biofuels Digest Editor Jim Lane posed the question: Is there really enough affordable feedstock for the second generation ethanol wave? According to Robert Kozak of Atlantic Biomass Conversions an co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA, “Yes, if we realistically address the financial realities of feedstock producers and feedstock buyers.” He reviewed the current weaknesses in current biomass development philosophy for feed, fuel, chemicals and biobased products and penned his findings in a white paper.
Kozak looked at a several possible biomass feedstocks including switchgrass, miscanthus and other grasses to dandelion roots and carrot and sugar beet residues. He concludes that the combination of saturated markets and increasing production costs may soon cause corn growers to either start returning land to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other programs (and increasing U.S. taxpayer costs) or to find other crops. In response, he advocates taking a closer look at what we have learned about biomass conversion technologies over the past 10 years along with farm policy.
In the paper he writes, “So, with approximately 20-25 percent of current US corn production being used for fuel ethanol, the questions for growers become: Could portions of this land be used for lower nutrient input biomass crops that would produce comparable income from ethanol or other biofuels and biomaterials? Could corn land not within current shipping distance of existing ethanol refineries also be used for biofuel/biomaterial crops? … I think the right answers to these questions could not only retain current grower incomes but more importantly, could be an opportunity to build the foundation of a true Advanced Biofuel and Biomaterial System.”
Kozak proposes root crops as a viable solution to these challenges. He bases his arguments on cell wall structure, lack of pesky lignin, and potential for over-wintering in situ to address storage logistics, etc. He acknowledges that these are very preliminary thoughts on a complex issue which deserves greater scrutiny. He also suggests convening an action-oriented conference or a series of workshops where experts involved in all aspects of the subject can gather for intense discussions.